"Shout Out Loud"    [ 07 ]   
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Apr 2010

 Clash of the Titans


Like most of us who grew up watching Ray Harryhausen's herky-jerky (but eerily fantastic) stop-motion magic in "Jason and the Argonauts", all those Sinbad movies, and of course his last film, 1981's "Clash of the Titans", I recently caught the new 'Clash' – in 2D.  Abysmal reviews of their last-minute conversion to 3D set a new standard in How NOT To Make A 3D Movie .. but back to my topic —

Besides the captivating monsters and creepy Greekological environs, one surprising element pierced me to the soul. It had nothing to do with Perseus (or even his freaky love interest, Io). It was Spyros, his adoptive father, played by an anemic-looking Pete Postlethwaite, who really captured my imagination. Being a poor fisherman, his hopes are dashed as he draws up his nets from the sea, empty once again. At that moment, he collapses before his family in their little boat and declares in a soul-weary manner, "Oh, I am tired of thanking the gods for scraps!" Despite warnings from his wife, he laments aloud mankind's toil and struggles under the callous indifference of the gods, "and yet still they demand our love!" ~ I am shamed and a little afraid to admit this, but just a short while ago, I felt exactly the same way – about the real God . . .

A(nother) recent unsuspected slip of fortune (or so we'll call it) left me clutching a plump fistful of God's Promises from the Bible, wondering why He had apparently . . lied . .  A word of caution: not the slickest move on the planet to accuse GOD HIMSELF of being false . . but in all honesty, I could no longer reconcile what the Word clearly indicates His followers should expect by way of His care and protection, with all these boulders rumbling through my life... And we're not talking about just for one month or two, here .. but five or six years and counting .. .

Without going into the jagged details, suffice it to say that in the last few years, I have experienced everything from a most heinous betrayal of dearly loved family members and trusted friends, near complete financial ruin, and unaccountable health issues, to complete housing upheaval, community slander, divorce, job changes, dreadful court battles spanning years . . . along with the usual flat tires, broken pipes, and even a 60-foot tree toppling over to crash through the roof of our house! . . . Everything short of a death in our immediate family (not counting our cat 'Spike'). Friends of mine often wonder aloud if I inadvertently clicked some email ad to sign up for the Plagues of Job!  It is uncanny, the number of trials befalling me with clock-like regularity . ..

By the same token, evidence of God's fingerprints are All OVER my life, shielding me and my children from overt harm, keeping my kids healthy and thriving in their lives, school, and church. They demonstrate an innate desire to really Know God, which I greatly admire in them, and strive for myself. God has consistently paved the way from one incredible job to another. Where I work now . . it just blows my mind how excellent my position is, the people and the organization where I work — what Wonderful BLESSINGS He has rained out upon us! . . True Friends, Great Schools, a reliable vehicle, and perhaps the best, most authentic church I've *ever* been a part of (and that's saying a LOT). Despite our financial challenges, He has paved the way for me to lead my children to dream-like adventures to visit friends on the coast, to camp overlooking the Grand Canyon, and even off to Disneyland!  Amazing Family Blessings!   And yet . . . in other ways, He has allowed almost Total Devastation to flood our world . . . a most Confounding Dynamic, to say the least.

 So, the reason I'm writing . . . .

Something went down in our lives a month or two past — and hit hard — causing me to fall into a spiritual tailspin the likes of which I have not faced in some 20 years. After all these intense recent trials, I lifted my weary heart to heaven and cry out to the LORD in complete dismay.  My eldest daughter, bless her heart, responds in an entirely different way when such pressures hit. She just smiled at this new occurrence as if a different golden door had opened up, saying, "We must be doing something right [ie. effective and in tune with God's purposes in our lives] for this to be happening to us! I can't wait to see what He will do to help us through it all!" I just looked at her in quiet amazement. Of course, she does not know all the grimy details like I do, but still . . . What would rattle so many others (including me) has simply bolstered her faith and nudged her closer to God!  Amazing . . .  reminds me of Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17 . . .

I have lost much in the last few years — a pruning of the 'dead branches' in my life, as it were (John 15:1-8) . .. how it stings to lose parts of your being . ..  So what remains within me reflects the first half of this verse, yearning for the second to appear:

 

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
   but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
—  Proverbs 13:12

 

And the Bible, it is important to note, is full to the brim with messages of this sort:

 

As high as the heavens are above the earth,
  so great is His love for those who fear Him . . .
As a father has compassion on his children,
  so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
—  Psalm 103:11,13

 

The angel of the LORD encamps around
those who fear Him, and He delivers them.
—  Psalm 34:7

 

Do not say, "I'll pay you back for this wrong!"
   Wait for the LORD, and He will deliver you.
—  Proverbs 20:22

 

The very core of God's message to humankind (John 3:16) defines how indescribably much God loves us all!  So much so that He willingly sent His own son to die in our stead to atone for all of our failings.. even while we, in our utter helplessness, continue to wallow in (and even celebrate!) our irrepressible desires to rebel against His love, His authority, His designs, His divine purposes. What kind of crazy love is *that* demonstrated by God toward us?!

Yet . . . it seems that He sometimes trumps His own promises He Himself presents to humankind. It seems as though He routinely ignores the very assurances He lavishes upon mankind through His Word, allowing some really unthinkable atrocities to occur on this earth, even sometimes victimizing those whom we might consider innocent (such as children) . . . Yet as much as He promises Protection and Providence to those who place their trust in Him, He also warns His followers that we can, and should, expect trials and some serious persecution (John 15:18-21, 1 Peter 4:12-19, and James 5:7-11 just for starters) - even unto death!  So how do you reconcile these things? Especially when you get pushed off a cliff and trust the LORD to catch you -- and it seems He chooses not to? Instead, He may offer a consolation bouquet or something as you bear the crush of destruction upon your life . .. Like Spyros in the mythical "Clash of the Titans", I find myself questioning instead the real Living GOD Himself. Curiously, almost as if 'showing His hand' to a pack of miniscule ants, He freely shares examples of when other men wrestled with these same issues throughout time, recording their struggles in His own Word for us to ponder. ("misery loves company" eh?) The overriding 'reply' is always this: that our Faith placed squarely in His hands, trusting in His goodness and His Love toward us, is the only conclusion one can draw, usually in the absence of anything we might consider 'answers' or even 'making sense', always hoping that our faith demonstrated in this way might be recognized by Him and somehow, someday, be rewarded (Hebrews 11:6). No better verse sums this up for me than Psalm 27:13 . . .

I would have despaired unless I had 
believed I would see the goodness
of the LORD in the land of the living!
—  Psalm 27:13

I have been a lay-student of the Bible for three decades, and have read a number of books examining these theological themes. Among so many, an oft-recognized title comes readily to mind: "When God Doesn't Make Sense" (Dr. James Dobson) -- In so many words, the human-level conclusion regarding Big Questions of this nature end in a veritable blind acceptance and willingness to throw one's hands up in Trust and Supplication, submitting to the fact that God alone, He is GOD, and that we are (so very much) not . . . giving as way of consolation the cliff-drop declaration that His ways and ideas are so beyond our ability to perceive, one cannot even comprehend them . . . For instance, when asked by a man to identify himself, even just an angel answered along the same mind-baffling lines:


Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the LORD,
  "What is your name, so that we may honor you
    when your word comes true?"
He replied, "Why do you ask my name?
    It is beyond your understanding."
—  Judges 13:17-18
 
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways my ways,"
   declares the LORD.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts."
—  Isaiah 55:8-9


One who is Almighty, Omniscient, and Eternal (who Personally conceived of and created EVERYTHING, for crying out loud), in choosing to commune with incredibly tiny beings with extremely limited comprehension, will by nature of our disparities in type, be resolved at some point to answer our flurry of infantile questions with the ultimate Daddy answer: "I'm sorry – I love you, but this is simply beyond your understanding . . . you will just have to trust me!" The bedrock of a relationship with God Almighty, ultimately, comes down to TRUST.. or FAITH . . . not only in His Existence, but also in His Love for us — corporately and individually — along with His timing and purpose for our lives.

One of the very great things about God is this: He is "big enough" to handle our flailing hissy fits brought about by circumstance beyond our control (or worse yet: self-imposed). A dear counselor pointed out that even approaching God with this kind of authenticity and honesty actually honors Him, if not by demonstrated humility on our part, then certainly by our willingness to bring such travails to Him for His direct involvement, trusting that He not only hears us, but cares enough to meet us in our pain, affording us all the while full and gracious allowance to just hurt at Him . . yell and kick and scream about whatever is vexing us. Knowing the depths of the darkness in my heart at times, His patience and grace truly confound and humble me. Going further, He typically represents Himself in relationship with us all through the analogy of a loving father with his beloved children, making a show of His heart by way of self-evidential comparisons such as this:


"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he
  asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil,
  know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your
  Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
—  Matthew 7:9-11


In the confusion and bitter gall resulting from yet another blow, I wondered how a Loving Father could allow his child(ren) to suffer such things, especially after declarations like this (above)? I didn't make that up! I did not 'twist' Scripture -- it is plain as day and obviously meant to be understood as a straightforward statement. Furthermore, even I (being "evil") would *NEVER* subject my children to such heart-crushing tribulations as those I have suffered these past years. Granted, He is up to way more in conforming my character to the likeness of Jesus Christ (for my good, His glory) than I could ever imagine, orchestrate, or affect upon the hearts of my children . . . which goes back to that whole TRUST issue . . .

Do I really trust that this – even this – is yet another fold in the tapestry God must weave into the fabric of my life to lead me to a place of ultimate blessing, ultimate fulfillment, and ultimate effectiveness? Do I really TRUST Him in, and with, all of this? Or worse yet, is the 'cause' of all of this due to something much more terrifying: suffering as discipline for sins I knowingly (or unknowingly) commit and spitefully nurture in my life to this day . . ?

 

My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline
  and do not resent his rebuke,
for the LORD disciplines those he loves,
  as a father the son he delights in.
—  Proverbs 3:11-12

 

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.  For what son is not disciplined by his father?  If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.  How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees – make level paths for your feet.
—  Hebrews 12:7-13a

 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of
many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith
develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so
that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
—  James 1:2-4

 

But see, like most American Christians, I do not consider it "pure joy" when affliction continues unabated in my life - not by a long shot!  I consider it heinous and hurtful, and certainly nothing worth celebrating! ~ Is this the "love of God", the "abundant life" He promises in John 10:10? It seems as though, despite God's promises, this life amounts to nothing more than a battery of assaults. . . I recently wrote in a journal: "If this is His 'Love', then just shoot me now!" Not a very kind, trusting, rejoicing perspective, I admit - but it is honest and laid bare before Him . . .


Romans 2:4 states that the "kindness of the LORD" leads one to repentance, that it is His kindness which draws us to Him.  :-/  Really.  A closer look into the context of Scripture surrounding this verse reveals a blood-chilling perspective. After busting on those who incorrectly judge others (as opposed to assessing character in someone's life and claims, which the Bible absolutely supports), and in the glaring light of me 'judging' God Himself (what staggering arrogance!), this thought ties up this harrowing passage:

Do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show
contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience,
not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?

I guess I really *don't* realize this . . . I do not "get" how His 'kindness' hurts so badly! He FLOODS us with assurances of His Love and Care and Faithfulness, all of His inten-
tions for Goodness and Value in our lives . . and then just lets a wrecker steamroll right through our world!  He seems to wound those who place their trust in Him! Is my hope in the LORD wasted? — I suppose this, then, is The Real Question . ..



When facing doubts of this magnitude, it is a good idea to seek counsel from those older and wiser than oneself . . so I contacted the pastorate of my church and requested to meet with someone, which was readily arranged. Through my anger, frustration, and total intolerance for band-aid 'Christianese' platitudes in light of such inconsistencies burning in my life, I challenged them to help make sense of this. As the leader of a home-life group, I worried out loud how I might avoid leading others astray in light of these glaring holes in my understanding of Scripture and God's character. Even worse, how could I answer my children who would earnestly question my sudden lapse in faith, my reluctance to pray? I understand full well God's attitude toward those who lead children astray spiritually (careful if you read this : very scary stuff : Matt 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2). Torqued at God, I must have sounded a lot like the man desperate enough to answer Jesus: "I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)

After some venting and appeals to cut to the root of Scriptural meanings, a few substantial elements gained purchase in the web of my anguished mind. One pastor said, "Tom, we may not know the mind of God, but we can recognize the move of His hand, and follow it even when we don't understand Him." I could relate to that in a very authentic way. Despite all these years of inexplicable trials, I cannot deny God's Loving-kindness, surprising Care, and often pleasant re:direction in my life. When I brought up my physical infirmities (not unlike Job's afflictions - thank GOD for antibiotics!) this same pastor commented that I had not suffered yet to the point of Christ.

That kind of theological rhetoric drives me crazy. "It's not my job to suffer as Messiah for anybody," I said. "Besides, as gruesome and unimaginably horrific as that was, after all was said and done, Jesus got everything handed right back to Him! Life, glory, station - everything!"

"But isn't it the same for us? Won't we also 'get everything handed back'?" he said.

That stopped me up short.  All these years .. and I had never once thought of it quite that way.  Granted, this is a rabbit-trail in this entry, but I share it to illustrate two points: [A] No matter what difficulties we face in this life, even 'unto death', we absolutely WILL 'get it all back' as believers in Christ! And that truly *IS* something to celebrate! (Hebrews 12:2) – and [B] Even after years of Biblical studies, just one astute comment from another believer resolved a small-yet-prickly point of contention in my faith. What wisdom can be found in the company of Christian friends and counselors! (Proverbs 15:22 & 27:17)

The younger minister shared about some really grave matters from his own life -- seriously gnarly stuff -- and then reminded me of a verse that I believe the LORD has been trying to impress upon me for months:


"Be still, and know that I am God;
   for I will be exalted among the nations,
   I will be exalted in all the earth."
—  Psalm 46:10


When you keep getting a particular Scripture kneaded into your life through seemingly disparate experiences and encounters (people, studies, sermons, even songs and radio/TV/movies), the more frequent and particularly-timed and attention-grabbing it is, especially un-sought and unprovoked by you . . I believe it may be relied upon as a confirmation of what God may be expressing in any season of your life. In my case, this Scripture implies a sense of trusting in His TIMING in all matters. While I am grateful for the time these pastors spent with me, doubts still lingered regarding God's intentions and promises in my life . . and by extension, in the life of anyone calling themselves 'Christian'. That's when Psalm 1 just fell back into my life one day like some kind of cheeky reminder:

  Blessed is the man who does not walk
    in the counsel of the wicked
    or stand in the way of sinners
    or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
    and whose leaf does not wither.
    Whatever he does prospers.

Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.


"What a CROCK!" I thought . . "Wholly unreliable as something to hang one's hope upon . . and you can just chuck all of Psalm 37 right out the window as well!" Most of Psalms and Proverbs, too, for that matter . . Maybe ALL of it is simply 'emotional poetry' blasted out by historical figures during times of great stress or great relief, but should in no way be considered Personal Promises from God to His followers in a daily, moment-by-moment sense . . .

I soon received an email from that same younger pastor containing a link to a video introducing the shocking ordeal suffered by Pastor Matt Chandler from The Village Church in Dallas, Texas. As a healthy 30-something minister with a devoted wife and young children, he was stunned to be diagnosed recently with a brain tumor requiring immediate surgery. So, as a contemporary wired-to-the-net kinda guy, he has documented everything as it unfolds, good or bad, through weekly YouTube vlogs. My friend's message by sending this video to me was two-fold: Pastor Matt's hold on faith in the LORD's goodness and care even in the midst of such horrible circumstances, and something mentioned toward the end of the first video, specifically how humbled he felt to be considered "worthy" to suffer in this way (such themes are reflected in passages like Acts 5:40-42) so that somehow, in God's timing and greater purpose, he may glorify the LORD no matter what happens! My friend had brought up the idea of me being 'worthy to suffer' during our conversation, see... which of course I just grumbled about.

Honestly – seriously – I absolutely do not believe that me and my attitude count as 'worthy' of anything other than God's likely disappointment over my habitual impudence . . certainly nothing comparable to Matt's magnanimous nature. I am a heinous sinner, my only hope hinging completely on the sheer mercy of God and Christ's sacrifice on my sorry behalf. I complain and question Him as I stumble along .. . hardly the proper attitude of Fortitude that qualifies one for the 'honor' of suffering for Christ. I'm suffering primarily because of persons choosing to betray my trust and their wedding vows . . and have not handled every challenge since then in an "entirely God-honoring" fashion . . I have often stumbled over my own pain along the way. On one hand, I am a successful business man, an innovative creator, music composer/performer, and (God help me..) a Bible study leader.  On the other hand, I'm a faithless accuser of God Himself, demanding ice cream sundaes in the heat of the desert, pitching spiritual tantrums when His ways are not *my* ways . . How bass-ackwards is *that*?!  All in all, hardly the makings of a candidate 'worthy' for anything in Christ, I should think . . . Check out someone who handled his fears and trials properly:


"In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing."
—  Job 1:22
 
Even his own wife cursed him!  Check this out:
              His wife said to him,
                "Are you still holding onto your integrity?
                  Why don't you just curse God and die already!"
—  Job 2:9  
 
(a real 'keeper', that one) — Job's response:
"Shall we accept only good from God, and not trouble?"
—  Job 2:10


The graphic introducing this post – "Clash of the Titans" – represents not the movie so much as the attitude of my heart/will pitted against the mind and ways of the LORD God Almighty. Oh I know, the analogy evaporates instantly when my puny [quote] "might and power" fall under the shadow of the Will and Ultimate Supremacy of GOD .. .  obviously.  But from my ant-like perspective, it's a fight that feels, in my heart anyway, like a 'clash' of epic proportions. Like that louse Jacob who, after scheming against his uncle (another schemer) for years, wrestled mano-a-mano one night against the angel of the LORD. Jacob could not overpower Him, but also recognized that the LORD was his only means to achieve any Real Success, and so demanded (the impudence!) He bless him before Jacob would let Him go! And God 'smote' him in the leg –(that word is just so perfect at times)– so that from that day forward, Jacob would in every way need to lean on the providence of God for literally every step he took. AND then God also blessed Jacob on top of everything ! - - I am not the life-schemer Jacob was, yet our attitudes toward God reek familiar . . .

The Bible brims over with examples of those who experienced monumental setbacks and years of unwarranted hardship, routinely misunderstanding God's purpose in their lives. The arrogant Joseph slid all the way down the family, social, and economical ladder to the very bottom of an Egyptian dungeon for years . .. Moses, struggling to fulfill his sense of purpose and political station to free his people from bondage, only to foul it all up royally in his own strength, so much so that he ended up tending a pack of stinking sheep for his father-in-law [!] on the backside of a desert for 40 years! And then there was David, who killed Goliath and was commissioned to assume the throne – and everyone knew it – only to be forced into exile for a decade, living in caves, surviving hand-to-mouth while awaiting the LORD's timing . . . I can go on, but the shape of God's message has been coming into focus for me for quite a while now . . .

I picked up my kids from a high school Bible study later that week. While waiting for Danielle to finish with her study group, my middle daughter, Jessi, and I just relaxed on a couch for a little while. Foul as my spirit felt these days, I stapled on a pleasant face and asked her what her group had discussed this evening. She said, "We talked about Joseph, and how he had to wait on God for years and years, because God wanted to teach him..." Here she thought carefully, ticking the points off on her fingers to recount it correctly: "God wanted him to learn humility.. integrity.. and generosity. Yeah, that's it."

 

~   I just looked at her in silence   ~


She smiled and innocently recounted her lesson to me.


This brought to mind another verse crowding my world lately:

 

The righteous shall live by faith.
—  Ro 1:17, 2 Cor 5:7, Gal 3:11,
         Hebrews 10:35-38, and more...

book: Crazy Love


  book: Forgotten God

 

I had just finished reading two powerful books by a west coast pastor named Francis Chan. "Crazy Love" describes the INCREDIBLE LOVE our Father-God extends toward us, His most beloved of all Creation. The other illuminates the Very Real relationship we may have with His living indwelling Holy Spirit, Whom we so often slight out of ignorance, or worse, simple neglect. (Neglecting GOD - what unthinkable nerve) - Both ideologies have defined the broadest borders of my faith for most of my life. However, I will need to read them again just to immerse my soul properly in the ebbs and tides of these rich waters -- very like a topical Bible study.

And if you're a contemporary American Christian, and have not yet heard of Rob Bell's "Nooma" projects . .. you need to climb out from under your rock and check in with your pastor, or neighbor, or the kids at the corner Circle K and borrow one of these 10-minute portraits of Scriptural Concepts. We've got the entire 24-count set as of this writing, all lined up on our DVD rack like a light blue shoebox. My kids happened to pop in #13, entitled "Rich" the other day . . all about how stinking, filthy, chest-poundingly and pridefully 'rich' we all are here in America, as compared with most of the rest of the world . . .  One clergyman, Frederic D. Huntington, had this to say about living in America's comparative lap of luxury:


It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel. It is proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity.


These words sound like they may have come from any Christian TV station this morning, but he made this observation in 1890 . . one hundred and twenty years ago! And what has changed regarding the hearts of mankind regarding God and money? Jesus put it this way, after illuminating the impossibility of expending one's life and resources in pursuit of *both* godly and worldly gain:

 

"You cannot serve both God and money."
—  Matthew 6:24 & Luke 16:13  

 

While flipping the radio dial on my way to work the other day, I happened to catch part of a sermon (John Piper, i think) that lay bare in cold, clear terms the lines describing the goals and expectations we unconsciously embrace as our 'God-given right' to the American Dream:

You serve money by posturing your life relentlessly, with all of your energy, time, and effort, to benefit from money. Your mind spins with how to make the shrewd investment, how to find the best deal, how to invest low and gain high . .. you're consumed with how to benefit from money, because money is your SOURCE .. .


We cannot give ourselves over to seeking (and supposedly finding) our Life's Security in something so feeble and transient as money, for there will come a day when we, individually, will give an account of how we managed the resources God placed into our hands while in this life (see Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 12:48b, Hebrews 9:27 for some sobering reflections)

We are embarrassingly wealthy in our nation, in these times — I am so rich, I can drive my SUV to a state-of-the-art movie theater and watch the latest blockbuster (in 3D if I desire) then return to my air-conditioned house, with clean water to squander, AND reliable electricity (not to mention all my computer equipment) so I can gripe about life through a globe-spanning internet portal . ..

Oh how many lives are wasted by people who believe that the Christian life means simply avoiding badness and providing for the family. So there is no adultery, no stealing, no killing, no embezzlement, no fraud – just lots of hard work during the day, and lots of TV and PG-13 videos in the evening (during quality family time), and lots of fun stuff on the weekend – woven around church (mostly). This is life for millions of people.  Wasted life.  We were created for more.

— from "Don't Waste Your Life" (John Piper)


"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!
  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to vomit you out of my mouth!
  You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that
  you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the
  fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful naked-
  ness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.
  So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice
  and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I
  will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father
  on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
—  Jesus, as recorded in Revelation 3:15-22

 

Am I (are *we*?) so caught up in a MATRIX-like paradigm that, like the man Jesus shared about in one of His parables (Luke 12:13-21), I may be 'storing up riches' in my barns only to discover too late, much too late, that it's all WORTHLESS? Like Oskar Schindler fumbling with his wealth and possessions at the end of Spielberg's magnum opus "Schindler's List", am I poised to anguish over a lifetime of self-centered greed, all at the cost of sharing His Grand News with even one more eternal soul . . created and bound to continue existing, somewhere ~ ? ~ perhaps not with Him in heaven?

THIS is a chief concern my heart should be bent on! Not whether or not God answers my prayers the way I wish He should, or whether or not my comfort level suits my own fickle changing standards. How entitled and pompous of me . . ! As a matter of fact, God commands His followers to find their greatest joy in Him . . not like some kind of slave-owner whipping us all into subservient compliance, but rather as a loving Father guiding us into deeper and deeper relationship with Him, which ultimately brings about our Best Good, and brings Him Glory which is due Him - always! Another shocking passage spells out what to expect if we continue to whine and opt NOT to seek our fulfillment in Him:

"Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart,
  therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you."
—  Deuteronomy 28:47


YES, God threatens terrible things if we will not be Happy in Him! ~ Wow! ~ What a devastating truth to the carnal nature within us all, that which seeks to turn away from God and His love for us, vaunting our pride against His Name . . . But the important thing to realize here is that He does not demand we plaster on a smiley face and grit our teeth in brow-beaten obedience. Quite the contrary . . . FINDING our Life in Him in such a way that no matter what the circumstances may be, we will always KNOW His love for us, sense His loving touch in our lives, and look forward to His Full Redemption in our lives in every sense of the term! ~ And that on an ETERNAL SCALE ! !  Now THAT *IS* cause for some real celebration, no matter WHAT you're going through!!

. . . So many Scriptures are leaping to mind for inclusion, filling my heart and rushing through my fingertips to my computer keyboard . . so many directions this narrative can take at this juncture. But I must end this post at some point! I suppose my convoluted 'story' will go on, taking the guise of God's Truths / Quality / Excellence made manifest not only in my life, but also through the goofy 'art' I strive to produce . . . In the keenest sense, NOTHING matters other than what a person does for, and with, the LORD. This may include small 'base' things, such as choice of food and entertainment, or grander designs, such as where and how one will expend one's life . . .

I have a friend who just took a one-way flight from this life here in America (where he literally was a "self-made millionaire" until they actually 'sold it all' ) to drop himself and his wife in a little backwater village in Kenya. They mean to spend the remainder of their lives in total sell-out service to the poverty-stricken people there in the name of our LORD Jesus Christ. Not only are they preaching and sharing His Truth in love, they are also meeting the physical and educational needs of hundreds of orphans there... for years, now. Their names are Chuck and Tammy McDonald, and their website (including an ongoing newsy blog) may be found here: Saved By God's Grace. Americans placing themselves in such a position will likely face legitimate death threats from certain forces in the region who interpret the Help provided by missionaries as an affront to their lifestyle, a menace to their stranglehold on the corrupt societal structure they control. Chuck and Tammy made their journey after years of prayer and preparation (sounding almost exactly like this page of honest rants not too long ago, as Chuck recently shared with me)... They are my age, have left America and their sweet family behind, and may very well be killed for their devotion to live their faith out loud and as practically as a soul can in this life.

When asked recently how they could do it, their answer was, "Because we love Jesus more than this life, more than our adult children, more than each other." When pressed further for motives, Chuck just beams and says in a very practical way, "It's all . . about . . Him . . " as if this was as plain as the nose on your face. He strikes me now as a man who has found an Ultimate Truth, and is willing to live, breathe, serve, and die for the assurance He has laid hold of . . .

 

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it,
  he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."
—  Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 13:44

 

John Piper would challenge us to devote our lives to the pursuit of our satisfaction in God . . . not in some self-serving way, but in the sense of Really KNOWING this Eternal, All Magnificent BEING . . in person . . . and climbing aboard His will and ways for the Adventure of Our Lifetime following wherever He leads . . . "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him!"

Can we all be missionaries? Not really . . Even the Bible describes how some are called to such a life while others are not. However, we are ALL commanded to be ready to share His Truths as we have opportunity, most especially when asked to give the reason for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15). The Bible also instructs us not to "despise the day of small things" (Zechariah 4:10) our season(s) of waiting, and/or training. King David had to wait all those year to finally fulfill the calling in his life to be the greatest [human] king Israel would ever know. So many lives following this line of 'training' are recorded for us in the Bible, and throughout history afterward. Even I, in my small sphere of influence, understand and embrace my primary mission field at this time in my life: to raise my three daughters to stand tall and strong in this corrupt world!

 

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless
and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in
which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life . . .
—  Philippians 2:14

 

Griping leads to serving one's enemies. However, our faith expressed and lived out loud as we Trust in the LORD and His timing . . . ALL of that matters a great deal to Him . . so much so that the Bible is replete with encouragement and assurances that having faith in Him is well-founded, the *only* sensible way to live, and will * absolutely * lead to incredible rewards! Such trust pleases our loving heavenly Father to a great degree - another manifestation of our worship of His Glory, when you boil it right down to its essence. I seek to honor the LORD and place my trust in His directions for my life not because I am some 'holy' dude — as if — or because I understand Him completely (see all of the above about that) but because He Is GOOD, and He is Trustworthy! Like Chuck says, it really is All About HIM! Glorifying God! He will manifest His glory in us, throughout His creation, using every means possible, because He can, and He should! The sooner we get on-board with His program, the better off we'll be! By pursuing His plan, we can become 'rich' in what God wants for us, and what He desires our lives should "be about" while here on earth , all for His Glory, and for our eternal gain!

 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
—  Philippians 4:6-9


In his spot-on review of the new "Clash of the Titans" movie, the indomitable Roger Ebert wrote, "Most of the film involves terrifying battles between mortals and special effects." I wonder how much of our lives are wasted defending our twisted values against the phantoms and noisy smoke around us, the 'special effects' of this life often conjured up by our own meddlesome efforts and paranoia? Haunting shadows and worries play for our attention, our love, our devotion, stirring us to worry, sapping so much of our time and energy, devouring every last drop of our lives' resources and energies until we are spent and left empty, useless at the feet of God – with absolutely nothing to show for our brief flicker here on earth. We burn our candles down to the wick in our waxy clutches during our few timid and furious days. What will it be worth? - All of it? - Chaff to swirl away like cinder-puffs beneath the penetrating gaze of the One and Only Righteous Judge? (Hebrews 9:27 & 1 Corinthians 3:13-15) Or will our many breaths expended here really matter, helping others to know His Truth, and yielding eternal rewards of REAL lasting value?  THAT is the concern we should be working through in our hearts . . . and it is where I conclude my tirade.

 

For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
   the LORD bestows favor and honor;
  no good thing does He withhold
   from those whose walk is blameless.
—  Psalm 84:11

 

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